Almost 20 minutes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping Tuesday to discuss the BRICS summit outcomes, Indian officials began looking at each other. The allocated time for the meeting was over and the Indians had a plane to catch — the Prime Minister was to fly to Myanmar for a bilateral visit. But National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar did not even glance at their watches, aware there was still some unfinished business left.
Modi and Xi quickly came to the issue of the Doklam border “incident” with R Madhusudan, First Secretary (Political) at the Indian embassy in Beijing, translating for the Prime Minister. The hour-long conversation, sources said, was not “very warm” and both sides acknowledged that the standoff issue had been “tough”. This was their ninth meeting in more than three years, possibly the “toughest”. “Both leaders acknowledged that it was not a desirable situation to be in… and that they did not want a repeat of what had happened,” the source told The Indian Express. That is when Modi and Xi decided to strengthen existing communication lines and coordination between security personnel at the border, so that incidents “do not recur”. They agreed to move forward and put behind the mistrust developed during the two-and-half-month standoff.
Sources said officers from foreign ministries and militaries of both countries will meet periodically to resolve issues that may affect maintenance of peace along the border. The two sides will also hold sector commander meetings at border points. These flow from the working mechanism in October 2013 to ensure peace and tranquility along the border between the two countries. Incidentally, it was during Jaishankar’s stint as Ambassador to China when the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) was signed between the two countries, during then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit.
While Modi described the hour-long meeting as “fruitful”, Xi told Modi that “India can view China’s development in a correct and rational way” and underlined the five principles of peaceful co-existence under the Panchsheel rubric. Jaishankar said the two sides took a “forward-looking approach”. “Discussions were very constructive on where the relationship should be going and will be going,” he said at a briefing after the meeting. “I think one of the important points which were made in the meeting was that peace and tranquility in the border areas was a pre-requisite for further development of the bilateral relationship and there should be more effort made to really enhance and strengthen the level of mutual trust between the two sides,” he said.
Recalling the consensus reached at the Kazakh capital, Jaishankar said: “There was a reminder that (as) at Astana in early June, we had both agreed that we would not let differences become disputes, and when the world was changing, we would ensure that India-China relations were a factor of stability. In many ways, that was reaffirmed.”
“It is natural that between neighbours and large powers, there would be areas of difference. But where there is an area of difference, they should be handled with mutual respect and effort should be made to find common ground in addressing those areas,” he said. The two leaders agreed that efforts should be made to ensure that “defence and security (personnel) must maintain strong contacts and cooperation” at the borders to “ensure that (the) sort of situation which happened recently should not recur”.
Jaishankar said that the two leaders had “laid out a very positive view of where the relationship could go”. He said they had held “a detailed discussion about the mechanisms which could help both countries really go forward in that direction”. He said organisations such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and BRICS could supplement interaction between the two countries at the “inter-governmental” level to build a robust relationship in the future. “There was strong affirmation at the leadership level that the relationship should be on a forward and an upward trajectory,” he said.
Asked whether the Doklam issue had been raised by Xi during the meeting, Jaishankar said, “Both of us know what happened. This (the conversation) was not a backward-looking conversation, this was a forward-looking conversation. The sense was that how do we take the relationship forward.”
The discussion was about ways to take the relationship forward, ensure peace in border areas and build mutual trust, he said. Modi took to Twitter after the talks: “Met President Xi Jinping. We held fruitful talks on bilateral relations between India and China.” Pitching for healthy and stable ties, Xi told Modi that China was prepared to work with India on the five principles of Panchsheel that govern relations between the two countries.
The Panchsheel principles relate to a 1954 treaty on mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and cooperation for mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence. Geng Shuang, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “Xi pointed out that China and India should respect each other, seek common ground and shelve differences to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas.”
“As far as I know, Prime Minister Modi agreed that the two sides should work together to ensure peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” Geng said. “Xi stressed that China and India are each other’s important neighbours and two important markets and emerging countries.” He quoted Xi telling Modi, “We need to show to the world that peaceful co-existence and win-win cooperation is the only right choice between the two countries. The two countries should shelve differences and seek common ground and together ensure peace and tranquility at the borders.”
“On the economic and social development, the two countries have great potential for cooperation which should see greater synergy in strategy alignment, expand cooperation in infrastructure connectivity as well as international affairs,” Xi said.